This week I wrote a post for the wonderful Fab Giovanetti on why we should be focussing more on the non aesthetic benefits of fitness and remaining true to yourself (you can read my post here). In the post I wrote the following:
'Train for your reasons not those dictated to you by an industry that profits from your insecurities.'
It occurred to me today what a huge ask this really was. Writing it was one thing, but how do you navigate the mine field that is the portrayal of women's fitness in our media?
As Anna Kessel articulates in her brilliant book Eat Sweat Play, many women abandon exercise in their formative years and return to it later in life. Due to various societal pressures and lack of investment in sports education for girls, (which Anna outlines in a far superior manner than me), women do not grow up retaining the joy of movement we learn as children. Due to this, it is much more likely that a decision to exercise will be motivated by external - usually aesthetic - pressures, rather than as an act of self love or enjoyment.
If it is dictated to us that we must look at certain way, we will of course look outside of ourselves on how to achieve this. We will rely on the guidance of the industry which has set the standard.
For me, this is where the real trouble starts. If I scroll through my social media at this very moment I could pick out more than a dozen different profiles offering a selection of fitness and nutritional advice to the help you achieve your (re: their) goals. In fact, here are some I have seen just today:
Lifting weights builds lean muscle/lifting weights make you bulky
Running is pointless, you should only do HIIT/endurance training is essential to fitness
Counting Macros helps you stay on track/counting Macros leads to binge eating
You must train 6 times a week to see the biggest changes/rest is equally as important as training
Carbs should only be eaten after you train/carbs are essential for energy and should be consumed before you train
I probably do not need to point out that these are all just a bunch of contradictions and depending who you speak to will determine whether they are statements with value or just total codswallop. This list does not even begin to scratch the surface of the opinions that are out there on social media for popular consumption.
Actually, perhaps I should rephrase that...
There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, what causes me concern is the sheer volume of misinformation out there being proffered as gospel to impressionable people. It is quite simply inaccessible, irresponsible and in some cases, plain dangerous what is being sold to us.
The profit making fitness machine is always going to be there looming, so how do we start to break free of it and set our own boundaries and goals. I won't lie, there isn't an immediate nor easy solution, but there are things you can do to limit your exposure to its most damaging elements. Here are my top suggestions:
Cull your social media IMMEDIATELY. If you are following any profiles that make you feel bad about who you are, you do not need them in your life. Anyone who's profile is a continuous stream of sports bra clad torsos but who never seems to do any exercise, is usually the best place to start
Start following real people who do amazing things. I follow women who are training for Iron Mans and marathons; who are hiking the Appalachian Trail; who campaign furiously for the rights of others. It makes me feel like I am capable of achieving great things also
Stop reading fitness publications where 'health' and 'diet' are interchangeable terms
Seek advice from properly trained professionals. This one is a BIGGIE. A 19 year old model selling a training plan on the internet is not a professional. Be discerning and critical of anyone offering health related services; this is your body and money. Whether it is nutrition or fitness, beware a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Beware of cleanses, beware of 28 day programmes that offer no follow up support, or support you have to pay for, beware of anything that is overly restrictive. If the claims are bold you need bold evidence to support it. Anyone worth their salt should be able to substantiate their product or services fully and should not be inconvenienced by you asking as many questions as you need to feel comfortable.
Would you add anything to this list? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!